Arizona natives use the term “snowbirds” to describe people who live in northern states during the Summer but spend their Winters in Arizona. It makes perfect sense to me. Arizona is really hot in the Summer. (See my last post .) The city of Tucson is close to Mount Lemmon . With a summit over 9000′, it is home to the country’s southernmost ski area and to the small village of Summerhaven, where clever, well-heeled Tucsonians relocate during the hot months.
We wanted to do a higher elevation hike to escape the heat, and also to see the unusual Wilderness of Rocks formation on the mountain. We left the house before sunrise, bought some bad gas station coffee, and drove the winding one-hour scenic road to the summit of Mount Lemmon. As the sun rose, the mountains glittered and showed different angles and views. The landscape changed from desert to low shrubs to forests of Ponderosa Pines. We saw signs about bears, not an animal I usually I associate with Arizona.
We parked in the hikers’ lot and were the second car there. We started down the Mount Lemmon Trail, which is part of the 800 mile Arizona Trail from the Mexico border to the Utah border. (It also goes through the Grand Canyon .)
The last several years have been very dry, and wildfire damage is evident everywhere. It’s good to see that vegetation is coming back though.
As we descended, we left the thick forest and the trees became more spread out. The sun got higher and more insistent. The landscape became rockier, and lizards of different types scurried about. Because of our early start (and maybe the heat?) we saw nobody.
Our destination was almost 2000′ below our starting point, and we were reminded of the sign in the Grand Canyon: “Down is optional, Up is mandatory”. It got hotter as the day progressed, and as our elevation decreased.
Finally we came to an intersection with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail. This took us through a more exposed area with odd stacks of boulders (“hoodoos”). The area resembles Chiricahua National Monument , although it’s smaller.
Dominating the view is a huge tower called Rappell Rock, or The Fortress. Local climbers enjoy its challenges, which include routes ranked from 5.7 to 5.11+. (Yeah, that doesn’t mean anything to me either. But the high end is very hard.)
I don’t know how tall the Fortress is, but it’s probably well over 500′. Difficult to appreciate the scale.
Finally, we reached the Lemmon Rock Trail, which went up and up (and up. and up.) until we got back to our car. Although we really enjoyed the experience, hiking 8 miles and 2000′ of elevation in Arizona Summer is a rough undertaking. The elevation supposedly knocks off 15 to 20 degrees of temperature, but it was 116 F when we got back to town, so still definitely hot. Frozen drinks were much appreciated.
Highly recommend this hike.